Ontario College of Arts and Design graphic design student from Rexdale erased her online presence before disappearing.
Her family says Asmaa Bana, 20, will usually call if she’s five minutes late. Now the Toronto student has gone missing.
Concern continues to grow about the whereabouts of Asmaa Bana, a 20-year-old Toronto graphic design student who has been missing since Monday, when she told friends she was leaving for a job interview.
Bana’s family says she is so conscientious that she will call if she expects to be even five minutes late, which is why her disappearance has left them desperate for information.
Also worrisome is the fact that Bana deactivated most of her social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Friends last reported seeing Bana on the fourth floor of the Ontario College of Arts and Design in downtown Toronto about 1:30 p.m. Monday. She had been searching online for a summer job — something she was anxious about — and told a friend she had found a great opportunity and would be having an interview later that day.
When she did not return Monday night to the Rexdale home where she lives with her siblings and parents, they began to panic.
“You’re not in trouble, please come home,” her family said in a message to Asmaa on Wednesday morning after Toronto police issued a press release. “If anyone knows anything, please come forward.”
A relative obtained Bana’s cellphone record for Monday, which shows the phone was last used at 5:19 p.m. to call her voicemail. The call lasted a minute.
But the records show from 2 p.m. until that last call, there were repeated incoming calls from a cellphone in Barrie. Bana does not appear to have answered them but did check her voicemail after almost every missed call.
The Star found the identity of the caller, who is listed as an employee with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, and tried to reach him by cellphone, Facebook and his office phone number. The messages were not returned.
However, Bana’s sister, Ilham, called the Barrie number early Tuesday and spoke briefly to a man before he hung up.
Toronto police Det. Paul Elliott said the investigation into Bana’s whereabouts is ongoing but confirmed the ministry employee is co-operating with them.
Normally, a missing 20-year-old does not warrant much attention from police but Elliott said the fact she deactivated her accounts raised alarms.
“That’s unusual for someone her age,” said Elliott Wednesday morning.
Had she wanted to disappear? A record of Bana’s Twitter account before she deactivated it Monday showed a recent post in which she wrote: “I don’t even care anymore.”
Then: “Okay maybe I care just a little.”
And lastly, “I hate people generally, but I like people individually.”
Her Tumblr account is a jumble of kitten and baby photos, praise for fashion or movie stars and quotes from the Qur’an.
Every possible explanation of where she may be — from the benign to the devastating — has run through the minds of Bana’s relatives, who immediately contacted police when they could not reach her.
The apartment where Bana lives with her parents, five sisters and brother, was packed late Tuesday night and again Wednesday as a steady stream of relatives came to comfort the family, hugging, crying.
On Tuesday night, three of her sisters were huddled in a bedroom, working like forensic investigators trying to track her movements.
She has a credit card but only a $500 limit and no real savings, they said. They tried to track her laptop through its serial number. Their cellphones constantly rang with updates or rumours from friends.
In addition to the calls from Monday there was another unusual call that one of the Toronto detectives investigating the case mentioned to the family, Ilham said. It was on April 18 and lasted only one minute. The number is for a cellphone in Pakistan, but her sisters say she doesn’t know anyone in Pakistan. Perhaps it was nothing more than a telemarketer. No one answered the number when it was called.
Her family was concerned that once news of her disappearance became public, people would assume that since she is Muslim she had been recruited by the Islamic State, which controls a large region in Iraq and Syria and has lured about 75 Canadians there, according to Canada’s spy service.
But it was also one of the first scenarios they themselves considered.
“We worried about that, of course,” said Ilham. “Because none of this makes sense.”
“I went through her bed, reached into all the nooks and crannies to see if she has a diary, or any notes tucked away,” she said. “I’m not concerned right now about privacy. I looked for pamphlets of events maybe she went to, went through all the pockets of her clothes, her bags, purses, maybe there was something she was hiding.”
Bana’s relatives say while she could be easily influenced, they find it impossible to believe she would try to leave Canada or be persuaded by a group such as the Islamic State. She has never been outside Ontario and never had a passport, unless she recently applied for one and did not tell her family.
“She barely keeps up with the news. She’s just trying to make her way through school,” said one sister.
Elliott confirmed Wednesday that police have no indication of any involvement by outside groups. The case has not been referred to the RCMP, who are alerted in national security investigations.
Bana left her home Monday at 7 a.m., with her mother telling her as usual to eat breakfast and Bana, as usual, leaving without a meal.
She took her phone, camera, laptop and chargers. That was what she usually packed for school. In hindsight, the fact that she left so early seems strange.
“She said exams were done, so it would be odd for her to leave that early,” said Ilham. “She had such a hectic semester, any student would want to take advantage of this time to recover from sleep deprivation.”